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Originally published Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:58 AM

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Texas proposes new rules for shale gas drilling

Texas environmental regulators have formally proposed beefing up regulations on oil and gas drilling, in an attempt to reduce air pollution caused when companies use new technology to extract natural gas trapped in deep shales.

The Associated Press

HOUSTON —

Texas environmental regulators have formally proposed beefing up regulations on oil and gas drilling, in an attempt to reduce air pollution caused when companies use new technology to extract natural gas trapped in deep shales.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality formally submitted the proposal on Wednesday, and the rules will enter a one-month public comment phase on Aug. 13.

The new rules come after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was accused of having weak regulations that contributed to air pollution and high levels of cancer-causing toxins were found in Barnett Shale drilling sites in a tiny north Texas town.

The gases in Barnett, and other shales, had long been inaccessible, but a new method of extracting the fluid known as fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - has led to a new boom in the industry. Many of the shales are in populated areas, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now studying the drilling's impact on human health and water quality.

The rapid expansion of shale drilling, especially around urban areas, forced the agency to review its regulations, TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw said in a statement.

"This is the latest step in our efforts to ensure safe air quality in areas where oil and gas production is ongoing," Shaw said.

But environmental groups say the rules don't go far enough, especially because they apply only to new permits.

"Existing gas wells are one of the largest sources of air pollution in Dallas-Fort Worth, about equal to that of all the cars and trucks in the region," Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said. "Excluding them from coverage is yet another hand out to Governor Perry's contributors from the oil and gas industry and a blow to healthy air."

Anne Inman, a TCEQ official in the air permits department, said most of the proposed rules apply only to new equipment or changes that would increase emissions. However, all sites must provide the agency with identifying information by 2013 and meet limits for maintenance, start-ups and shutdowns by Jan. 2012.

The agency is also attempting to better monitor air pollution in areas with a large amount of shale drilling. The agency already has four operating monitors and the hourly results are posted on a TCEQ Website. It plans to install three additional monitors.

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